CHEROKEE, Iowa –
As the wind unfurled the collection of flags surrounding the Cherokee County Courthouse in northwestern Iowa, the freshly painted Freedom Rock honoring local heroes drew every one of the nearly 200 visitors’ eyes during its September 10 dedication ceremony.
Major General Patrick Reinert, a native of Cherokee County and commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 88th Regional Support Command in Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, was the guest speaker for the ceremony that honored the four veterans depicted in the mural as well as all veterans of Cherokee County.
“We as veterans not only have to remember what we did, but we need to inspire others to serve to help keep the nation strong,” said Reinert. “Right now, our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsman are in the fight. They’re on patrol providing support and securing freedom. They are helping keep America strong. I am grateful to be counted among the proud natives of Cherokee County of the veterans of Cherokee County.”
The Freedom Rock Tour was conceived and executed by Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II as a way to honor the men and women from Iowa who have served in the military. His goal is to paint and dedicate a Freedom Rock for each of Iowa’s 99 counties and its veterans.
“I hope when you step back and look at the entire state in all 99 counties that everyone is represented. I always say, look at (each rock) as a piece of a 99-piece puzzle,” Sorensen said.
The 40,000 pound rock was selected from within Cherokee County and now sits at the corner of West Main and 6th streets. Sorensen drew his inspiration from four Cherokee County veterans for the painting. An American flag is painted across the top and two sides. On one side is a tribute to Francis Sampson and Royal Johnson and the other side honors Ben Laposky and Harry McManus.
Each of these men honored their Cherokee County roots through their service. Sampson was the first Army chaplain to jump with paratroopers behind enemy lines as a member of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division during World War II. His rescue of an American Soldier serves as the basis for the movie Saving Private Ryan.
Royal Johnson was an elected member of Congress when he enlisted in the Army to fight in World War I. He served with the 313th Infantry Regiment and earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his service. The Veterans Administration hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is named after him.
Ben Laposky served in the Army during World War II where he earned the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during a Japanese bombing of the Solomon Islands. Laposky is credited with helping to create computer graphics.
Harry McManus served in the Navy during World War II and the Korean War. He survived the sinking of the USS Houston and was a Japanese Prisoner of War for nearly four years as well.
Next to the rock is a plaque explaining each of the men and their accomplishments in further detail.
“The strength of this project isn’t from one stone in one county. It’s from stones scattered across the counties spread the message of freedom and the price of freedom. And for that, we thank you for making us part of your life,” Reinert said.